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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Seed Beads and Porcupine Quills

the first pair of earrings I made
No one knew what ancestry I had growing up. It mattered more to me than it did to the family who adopted me. As adoptees grow up, we realize we are a mystery; sadly our adoptive family may not know anything or share anything with us about our true identity. That is a hard way to live, not a good way to live. It hurts when people call you a bastard or orphan. It happened to me often – I was asked why I was adopted. I didn’t know the answer. How could I know? I was relying on lies and half-truths, like it was better I didn’t know the truth about me and my mother. I hated the way I was treated: like I was someone who did not deserve to know the truth, as if it should not matter to me!

I did follow my spirit when I started to make beaded jewelry, long before I knew I had any Indian blood. I still have the first pair of earrings I made when I was 20. Something drew me to seed beads and porcupine quills. Blood is embedded with our genetic code. No one can alter that. I didn’t know about my Cherokee-Shawnee ancestry until I was 40.

Here is a something else to consider: “…Before Europeans arrived, Indian education taught children how to thrive. Social education taught responsibilities to the extended family and the clan, band, or tribe. Vocational education taught about child rearing, home management, farming, hunting, gathering, fishing, and so forth. Children learned about their place in the cosmos through stories and ceremonies. Traditional Indian education emphasized learning by application and imitation, not by memorizing information…” This is from Path of Many Journeys, The Benefits of Higher Education for Native People and Communities, published in February 2007.

So Indian Country taught by example. Children watched and learned. I wanted to learn the peyote stitch, so I call this an interest by instinct and blood. When I think back, I prayed while I beaded. Each bead I strung, I would pray. No one in my adoptive family ever said to do this. No one taught me or encouraged me to bead. My first husband actually discouraged it since he said I wouldn’t make money selling them. He missed the point. I made this jewelry to give away as gifts. Edie, my adoptive mother, often wore hers to church.

I did a radio interview on Sunday Sept. 25 (See Interviews & Readings 2011 on the left sidebar) and a friend asked me to answer this on air: “If you love someone you want to know everything about them… Why don’t adoptive parents want to know everything about their child?” (Since we ran out of time, I was not able to answer this.)

Here is my answer: I think some adoptive parents did and do want to know. I know some were told personal details in meetings with social workers and lawyers. (For example, Edie saw paperwork on my brother and saw his real name in the 1950s.) Before the 1950s, the adoption system believed in openness so adoptive parents had more details about blood and the child’s birth family; this was the era of eugenics and fears of “Bad Seed” in certain children put up for adoption. Openness changed when the adoptive family started to demand total privacy in adoption, obviously to calm their anxiety and fears of losing a child they adopted. To seal the deal, adoption records were closed in most states so baby and birthmother would never meet or be able to know each other. We know some parents spent thousands of dollars to adopt a baby (or babies) and didn’t want to ever lose that child. We also know social workers created stories and myths so adoptees would appear perfect and very smart. Imagine the disappointment if a child starts to act anxious or traumatized and “acts out” over this mystery they are forced to accept for life. A few adoptees told me they heard details growing up that were later found to be lies, especially about ancestry.

Another question was: Do adoptive parents disown children if they open their adoption and find their birthfamily? Yes. It happens frequently.

State systems and religion-based adoption groups still control information and secrecy with sealed records. Secrecy prevents future reunions. Secrecy would also protect some birthmothers from future judgment or scandals concerning their immorality. We also know that information collected was purposefully vague to prevent adoptees from finding their birthparents or vice versa.

Why adoptive parents do not tell adoptees anything is simply their preference, and their belief that we are theirs legally. They don’t believe blood matters. This is a very flawed way of thinking. I am living proof that blood matters greatly.

I will be answering more questions in the next blog posts… If you have a question, click on the  "Contact" tab on this page... Trace

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Indian Country is under attack. Native tribes and people are fighting hard for justice. There is need for legal assistance across Indian Country, and NARF is doing as much as we can. With your help, we have fought for 48 years and we continue to fight.

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Today, we look at recent effort to undo laws put in place to protect Native American children and families. All children deserve to be raised by loving families and communities. In the 1970s, Congress realized that state agencies and courts were disproportionately removing American Indian and Alaska Native children from their families. Often these devastating removals were due to an inability or unwillingness to understand Native cultures, where family is defined broadly and raising children is a shared responsibility. To stop these destructive practices, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).

After forty years, ICWA has proven to be largely successful and many states have passed their own ICWAs. This success, however, is now being challenged by large, well-financed opponents who are actively and aggressively seeking to undermine ICWA’s protections for Native children. We are seeing lawsuits across the United States that challenge ICWA’s protections. NARF is working with partners to defend the rights of Native children and families.

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where were you adopted?

where were you adopted?